If a team is blessed with a fifth bowler, they need to utilise him smartly.
In the post-lunch session, South Africa fetched just 43 runs in 26 overs. Mitchel Starc made the ball to reverse and at the other end, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood stranglehold the run-scoring mojo of Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla.
But their attritional way of weathering the storm did not last long after tea. Amla’s offstump went for a walk courtesy of a lethal fuller-length delivery from Mitchell Starc while Josh Hazlewood’s angle from round the wicket which moved the ball away from left-handed Elgar, resulted in the fall of second wicket of South Africa. After a wicketless session in the afternoon despite bowling with a lot of intent, the Australian pacers breathed fire in the final session.
The first ten overs after tea were divided among Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins and the way they were bowling, no captains would not think of engaging his backup bowler at all. He would either think of bowling Lyon from one end at a trot and engage his premium pacers to bowl in short spells along with Lyon.
But Steve Smith wanted his fifth bowler to have a go and decided to bring on Mitchell Marsh, an allrounder, whose batting is more effective than his bowling in five-day formats.
Marsh started off with a short-ball and Faf smashed it away for four. After facing the hostility of Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood; such a delivery was like a breath of fresh air, but the negative side is, they tend to inject a sense of casualty at the back of the mind. Marsh’s third ball was full at a fast-medium pace, clocking almost around 145 km/hour but Faf’s front foot was lazy, and thus, played the ball on the wrong line – South Africa lost their fifth wicket.
In the next over, Marsh dished out a back-of-a-length ball with a similar pace which angled in to trap Theunis de Bruyn. Theunis had problems against the balls pitched in and around fourth stump and was ready for those, but he was undone by an incoming delivery, which he countered well at Durban in the second innings.
On both occasions, Marsh’s deliveries gave us the hint of contrast-swing.
Not bad at all from a cricketer who has gone through quite a transformation in the last one year or so.
There was a time when many former greats advised him to shelve his bowling duties but after his bowling display at Durban and Port Elizabeth, those doubts about his ability as a bowler have ebbed away. Even he has proved his worth as a useful batsman as well. A fragile middle-order batsman is now a versatile batting option.
Well, in the twinkle of an eye, South Africa were reeling with six wickets down. Smith’s plan to inject variety in length and pace worked brilliantly. Also, it showed us the importance of having such backups in the team. It’s always an asset to have a fifth bowler in the side who can surprise the batsmen with his pace and length. When needed, they can be the men with the golden arm if they are used smartly.
Someone like Mitchell Marsh does bear enough weight in the team as a fifth bowler in Test cricket. He not only gives the captain an opportunity to rest his premium bowlers but at the same time, he can chip in with valuable wickets against the run of play.